Sunday's Sermon

 

"I am the Good Shepherd"

 by Wayne L. Derber, Pastor

April 22, 2018 - 4th Sunday of Easter - B

Sermon text: “(Jesus said:) ‘I am the good shepherd.  The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.  The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away – and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep.  I am the good shepherd.  I know my own and my own know me.’– John 10:11-14

 

“I am the good shepherd.”

This is the comforting assurance that Jesus tells us

                  in our gospel reading for today.

“I am the good shepherd.”

 

There are four groups of people in the illustration Jesus uses.

First, there are the sheep.

Second, there is the hired hand.

Third, there is the wolf.

Fourth, there is the good shepherd.

 

First, let’s consider the sheep.

That’s you and me.

We are the sheep that need a shepherd.

 

In one of his books,

            former president Jimmy Carter wrote this about sheep:

      “Of course, it’s not very flattering

                        for us to be compared to sheep!

      When I grew up,

            we always had a flock of sheep on our farm,

                  and we considered them dumb and meek.

      They look big, but most of their size comes from their fluffy wool,

            and they appear pitiful and even a little ugly

                  after we shear the wool.

      When attacked, sheep are utterly unable to defend themselves.

      Stray dogs were the main predators that concerned us.

      It seemed that once a dog killed sheep for food,

            it would later do so even when he wasn’t hungry,

                        almost as an addiction –

            because they (the sheep) were so vulnerable and helpless.

      Such a dog had to be destroyed.”  (Jimmy Carter, page 47, Sources of Strength)

 

I also think of the words from the prophet Isaiah:

      “All we like sheep have gone astray;

            we have all turned to our own way.” – Isaiah 53:6a

 

A few weeks ago,

            the traditional choir sang an anthem (“Behold the Lamb!”)

                  based on this verse from Isaiah.

In this anthem are the words:

      “All we like sheep have gone astray.

            All we have turned to our own way.

      Jesus Christ, Holy Lamb, Son of God, the great “I AM,”

            He bears the cross for all who’ve gone astray.”

(by Lloyd Larson, page 42 in “Wondrous Love”)

Yes, “all we like sheep have gone astray.”

 

So for us to be compared to sheep is not a very flattering comparison.

There certainly are many similarities.

Like sheep, we are not very intelligent.

Like sheep, we are rather meek.

Like sheep, we are vulnerable and weak.

Like sheep, we need to be taken care of.

Like sheep, we tend to wander away.

Like sheep, we are defenseless against the wolves of the world.

 

Second, Jesus speaks of a hired hand.

The hired hand is exactly that – a hired hand.

He has been hired for pay to take care of the sheep.

But he is only doing it for the money.

He really doesn’t care for the sheep.

Jesus says that the hired hand runs away when the wolf comes.

He doesn’t really care for the sheep.

He only cares about himself and his pay.

 

Jesus doesn’t specifically say who he has in mind

            when he refers to the hired hand,

      but he probably was thinking

            of some of the religious leaders of the time.

 

The religious leaders seemed like shepherds.

They seemed like they cared for the sheep – the people.

They seemed like good shepherds.

But they were not.

They were only hired hands.

And when things got tough for the people,

            the hired hands were be nowhere to be found.

 

Sometimes when I am watching religious programs on television,

      the speaker will look right into the camera

            and very tenderly say: “I love you” or “I care for you.”

But these words aren’t true.

This person does not love me or care for me.

If I was in the hospital, this person would not come to see me.

If I was struggling with a problem, this person would not listen to me.

If I needed something, this person would not give anything to me.

If I saw this person on the street, he would not even recognize me.

So no matter how sincere and kind the speaker on television may sound

            it simply is not true that they care about us.

 

I think that when Jesus speaks about hired hands

            who run away when the wolf comes,

      he is warning us not to put our ultimate trust in any religious leader.

Many of them may be very kind, compassionate,

            and very faithful to God –

      but they are not the Good Shepherd.

Sooner or later, they are going to leave and disappoint us.

I am sure that I have sometimes disappointed you.

There is only one Good Shepherd.

So put your trust in him and not in any hired hand.

 

Third, Jesus speaks of a wolf that attacks the sheep.

There are all kinds of wolves in the world, aren’t there?

There is the wolf of worry…

            the wolf of strife…

            the wolf of heartache…

            the wolf of despair…

            the wolf of war…

            the wolf of physical pain or illness…

            the wolf of mental illness…

            the wolf of hunger…

            the wolf of indifference…

            the wolf of hatred…

            the wolf of fear…

            the wolf of emotional turmoil…

            the wolf of grief…

And, of course, there is the worst wolf of all…

            the wolf of death.

 

Perhaps you have some wolves circling around you today.

Perhaps you are struggling

            with some problem or situation in your life

      that fills you with a great deal of worry, fear, or heartache.

You might feel like a helpless sheep

            about to be attacked by a ferocious wolf.

 

No wonder then that we need a good shepherd.

This is exactly who we have in Jesus.

He will not let the wolves destroy us.

He will come and fend off the wolves that threaten us.

He will even lay down his life to save us from the wolves.

On the cross,

            Jesus did exactly that –

      our Lord laid down his life

            to save us helpless sheep

                  from the terrible wolf of eternal death.

 

In our gospel reading for today, Jesus says:

      “I am the good shepherd.

      I know my own and my own know me.”

 

Now these religious speakers on television or the radio –

      they don’t know you…

      they don’t love you…

      they don’t even know your name.

But it is different with Jesus the good shepherd.

He knows you very well.

He knows you better than you know yourself.

 

Most people work eight hours a day for five days a week.

You punch in and you punch out.

When it’s quitting time, you leave your job behind and go home.

 

Well, that’s not how it worked for the shepherds of long ago.

There was no quitting time.

A shepherd lived with the sheep twenty-four/seven.

Needless to say, the shepherds

                  got to know their sheep very well.

 

We didn’t have sheep on our farm when I was growing up.

We had cows.

When I saw the cows in the pasture, they were just cows to me.

But it was different for my dad.

He recognized each one.

He even had names for some of the cows.

He knew how much milk each cow was likely to give.

He knew how old each cow was.

He knew each cow’s temperament – whether calm or feisty.

He knew if they were healthy or when one of them was sick.

My dad knew each cow.

And Jesus, as our good shepherd, knows each of us very well.

 

Earlier in this same chapter of John,

            Jesus says about the sheep and the shepherd:

      “…he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.”  (John 10:3b)

 

Jesus knows you so well that he calls you by name.

Jesus knows your name!

And not only does he know your name, he calls you by name!

You may sometimes feel unworthy and insignificant before Jesus.

But that is your opinion of yourself.

It certainly is not how Jesus feels about you.

Jesus knows all about you and yet he loves you so deeply.

After all, he is the good shepherd.

 

A famous speaker was once entertaining a crowd

            with his dramatic recitations.

The audience was enthralled by his inspiring messages.

An elderly minister listening to him,

      asked the gifted speaker to recite the twenty-third psalm.

The speaker was glad to do so.

“The Lord is my shepherd,” he began, with flair and eloquence,

            “I shall not want.”

With a booming and dramatic voice,

      he spoke the entire psalm

            and then the audience applauded with appreciation.

“And now,” continued the speaker,

            calling forward the elderly minister,

      “I would like to hear you recite this psalm.”

The minister somewhat reluctantly agreed.

He began with a much softer and shakier voice.

But as he spoke, a hush fell over the crowd.

Although not as polished and dramatic,

            the elderly minister

                  spoke with much inspiration and meaning.

And when he was finished,

      there was a moment of silence,

            followed by a standing ovation and thunderous applause.

The professional speaker bowed before the elderly minister

            and confessed:

                  “I merely know the words of the shepherd’s psalm…

                        but you… you know the shepherd!”

 

Yes, it is one thing to know about Jesus…

                  and quite another to know Jesus.

It is one thing to have intellectual knowledge about Jesus

            and quite another to have a personal relationship with him…

                  to hear him…

                  to trust him…

                  and to follow him.

 

In our gospel reading for today,

                  Jesus, the Good Shepherd, says:

      “I am the good shepherd.

      I know my own and my own know me.”

 

Sometimes I’m okay just being close to Jesus…

            a sheep walking next to the good shepherd.

But other times, I need the good shepherd to lift me up…

            I need the good shepherd to call me by name…

            I need the good shepherd to hold me in his arms…

            I need the good shepherd to tenderly look me in the eyes…

            I need the good shepherd to tell me that he loves me.

Sometimes… I really need the good shepherd!

 

The twenty-third psalm is a favorite of many people.

Through this psalm, we can hear Jesus tell us

                  how he is our good shepherd.

 

Listen to the words of this psalm

            as if it was Jesus himself speaking the words directly to you:

 

      “I am the good shepherd.”

            You shall not want.

 

      “I am the good shepherd.”

            I make you lie down in green pastures.”

 

      “I am the good shepherd.”

            I lead you beside still waters, I restore your soul.

 

      “I am the good shepherd.”

            I lead you in paths of righteousness for my name sake.

 

      “I am the good shepherd.”

            Even though you walk through

                        the valley of the shadow of death,

                  fear no evil;

                  for I am with you.

            My rod and my staff, they comfort you.

 

      “I am the good shepherd.”

            I prepare a table before you in the presence of your enemies.

 

      “I am the good shepherd.”

            I anoint your head with oil, your cup overflows.

 

      “I am the good shepherd.”

            Surely goodness and mercy shall follow you

                  all the days of your life.

 

      “I am the good shepherd.”

            You will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

 

      “I am the good shepherd.”

 

Amen.